With LNG, the shipping industry could reach its decarbonisation target—but wreck the climate, study finds

(Eco Business, 31 Jan 2020) Switching shipping to natural gas would mean more climate-disrupting methane leaks into the atmosphere. But due to a serious flaw in the industry’s decarbonisation efforts, it would still tackle climate change—on paper.

Hopes have been pinned on liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a climate solution for the maritime industry, but switching vessels to the fuel would only serve to worsen shipping’s climate impact due to previously underestimated leakage of the climate super-pollutant methane, new research released this week has revealed.

The study, by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), shows that much more methane, which is the major constituent of natural gas, than formerly thought escapes along the process of extracting the gas from the earth and burning it in an engine, bringing up total climate emissions from LNG to an amount 70-82 per cent greater than that from other marine fuels.

Further exacerbating LNG’s climate effects is the fact that methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas. Over a 20-year period, it is capable of trapping 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide, and 36 times more over a 100-year period.

If upstream emissions and methane slips from engines are factored in, there are no climate benefits from running vessels on natural gas, regardless of the engine technology used. Continued misdirected investment in LNG infrastructure on ships and on shore could make it harder to transition to low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels in the future, reads the report, titled ‘The climate implications of using LNG as a marine fuel’.

Interest in LNG ships, however, is on the rise. That climate concerns, in addition to stricter air pollution standards and energy efficiency regulations, are driving this surge in interest is because the decarbonisation target laid down by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation (IMO) two years ago, challenging the sector to halve its carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, is too narrow.

It has neglected methane emissions, leading the industry astray in its search for ways to address its climate impacts.

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Eco Business, 31 Jan 2020: With LNG, the shipping industry could reach its decarbonisation target—but wreck the climate, study finds